Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung round his neck and he were thrown into the sea (Mark 9:42-10:1)


Parallel passages:  Matthew 18:6-9, 5:13,19:1; Luke 17:1-2, 14:34

42“Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung round his neck and he were thrown into the sea.

43And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire.

44where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.

45And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into hell.

46where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.

47And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell,

48where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.

49For every one will be salted with fire.

50Salt is good; but if the salt has lost its saltness, how will you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”

1And he left there and went to the region of Judea and beyond the Jordan, and crowds gathered to him again; and again, as his custom was, he taught them.


Interpretation by the Church Fathers

Clement of Rome

1 Corinthians 46:13-22

Such examples, therefore, brethren, it is right that we should follow;13 since it is written, “Cleave to the holy, for those that cleave to them shall [themselves] be made holy.”14 And again, in another place, [the Scripture] saith, “With a harmless man thou shalt prove15 thyself harmless, and with an elect man thou shalt be elect, and with a perverse man thou shalt show16 thyself perverse.”17 Let us cleave, therefore, to the innocent and righteous, since these are the elect of God. Why are there strifes, and tumults, and divisions, and schisms, and wars18 among you? Have we not [all] one God and one Christ? Is there not one Spirit of grace poured out upon us? And have we not one calling in Christ?19 Why do we divide and tear to pieces the members of Christ, and raise up strife against our own body, and have reached such a height of madness as to forget that “we are members one of another?”20 Remember the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, how21 He said, “Woe to that man [by whom22 offences come]! It were better for him that he had never been born, than that he should cast a stumbling-block before one of my elect. Yea, it were better for him that a millstone should be hung about [his neck], and he should be sunk in the depths of the sea, than that he should cast a stumbling-block before one of my little ones.1 Your schism has subverted [the faith of] many, has discouraged many, has given rise to doubt in many, and has caused grief to us all. And still your sedition continueth.

13 Literally, “To such examples it is right that we should cleave.”

14 Not found in Scripture.

15 Literally, “be.”

16 Or, “thou wilt overthrow.”

17 Ps. 18:25, 26.

18 Or, “war.” Comp. James 4:1.

19 Comp. Eph. 4:4–6.

20 Rom. 12:5.

21 This clause is wanting in the text.

22 This clause is wanting in the text.

1 Comp. Matt. 18:6, 26:24; Mark 9:42; Luke 17:2.

Clement of Rome. (1885). The First Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians. In A. Roberts, J. Donaldson, & A. C. Coxe (Eds.), The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus (Vol. 1, pp. 17–18). Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company.


Harmony of The Gospels, IV.VI.7

Mark proceeds with his narrative in these terms: “For whosoever shall give you a cup of water to drink in my name, because ye belong to Christ, verily I say unto you, he shall not lose his reward. And whosoever shall offend one of these little ones that believe on me, it is better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he were cast into the sea. And if thy hand offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter into life maimed, than having two hands to go into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched; where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.” And so on, down to where it is said, “Have salt in yourselves, and have peace one with another.”1 These words Mark represents to have been spoken by the Lord in the connection immediately following what He said in forbidding the man to be interdicted who was casting out devils in His name, and yet was not following Him along with the disciples. In this section, too, he introduces some matters which are not found in any of the other evangelists, but also some which occur in Matthew as well, and some which we come across in like manner both in Matthew and in Luke. Those other evangelists, however, bring in these matters in different connections, and in another order of facts, and not at this particular point when the statement was made to Christ about the man who did not follow Him along with the disciples, and yet was casting out devils in His name. My opinion, therefore, is, that the Lord did really utter sayings in this connection, according to Mark’s attestation, of which he also delivered Himself on other occasions, and this for the simple reason, that they were sufficiently pertinent to this expression of His mind which he gave here, when He forbade the placing of any interdict upon the working of miracles in His name, even although that should be done by a man who did not follow Him along with His disciples. For Mark presents the relation of the one passage to the other thus: “For he that is not against us is on our part; for whosoever shall give you a cup of water to drink in my name, because ye belong to Christ, verily I say unto you, he shall not lose his reward.” This makes it plain that even this man, whose case John had taken up, and thus had given occasion for the Lord to commence the discourse referred to, was not separating himself from the society of the disciples to any such effect as to scorn it like a heretic. But his position was something parallel to the familiar one of men who, while not going the length yet of receiving the sacraments of Christ, nevertheless favour the Christian name so far as even to receive Christians, and accommodate themselves to them for this very reason, and none other, that they are Christian; of which type of persons it is that He tells us that they do not lose their reward. This does not mean, however, that they ought at once to think themselves quite safe and secure simply on account of this kindness which they cherish towards Christians, while at the same time they are neither cleansed by Christ’s baptism, nor incorporated into the unit of His body. But the import is, that they are now being guided by the mercy of God in such a way that they may also come to these higher things,2 and so quit this present world in safety. And such persons assuredly are more profitable [servants], even before they become associated with the number of Christians, than those individuals who, while already bearing the Christian name and partaking in the Christian sacraments, recommend courses which are only fitted to drag others, whom they may persuade to adopt them, along with themselves into eternal punishment. These are the persons to whom He refers under the figure of the members of the body, and whom He commands to be cast out from the body, like an offending hand or eye; that is to say, to be cut off from the fellowship of that unity, in order that they should seek rather to enter into life without such associates, than to go into hell in their company. Moreover, they are separated from those from whom they separate themselves, just when no consent is yielded to their evil recommendations, that is to say, to the offences in which they indulge. And if, indeed, they are discovered in the character of their perversity to all good men with whom they have any fellowship,3 they are cut off completely from the fellowship of all, and also from participation in the divine sacraments. But if they are known in this character only to some, while their perversity is unknown to the majority, they must just be borne with, as the chaff is endured in the thrashing-floor previous to the winnowing; that is to say, they must be dealt with in a manner which will neither involve any agreement with them in the fellowship of unrighteousness, nor lead to a forsaking of the society of the good on their account. This is what is done by those who have salt in themselves, and who have peace one with another.

1 Mark 9:40–50.

2 The text gives ad ea. Another reading is ad eam = that unity of His body.

3 Reading societas. Many mss. give notitia = acquaintance.

Augustine of Hippo. (1888). The Harmony of the Gospels. In P. Schaff (Ed.), S. D. F. Salmond (Trans.), Saint Augustin: Sermon on the Mount, Harmony of the Gospels, Homilies on the Gospels (Vol. 6, p. 229). New York: Christian Literature Company.

Apostolic Constitutions

That a bishop who by wrong judgment spares an offender is himself guilty (III.4)

But he who does not consider these things, will, contrary to justice, spare him who deserves punishment; as Saul spared Agag,9 and Eli10 his sons, “who knew not the Lord.” Such a one profanes his own dignity, and that Church of God which is in his parish. Such a one is esteemed unjust before God and holy men, as affording occasion of scandal to many of the newly baptized, and to the catechumens; as also to the youth of both sexes, to whom a woe belongs, add “a mill-stone about his neck,”11 and drowning, on account of his guilt. For, observing what a person their governor is, through his wickedness and neglect of justice they will grow sceptical, and, indulging the same disease, will be compelled to perish with him; as was the case of the people joining with Jeroboam,12 and those which were in the conspiracy with Corah.13 But if the offender sees that the bishop and deacons are innocent and unblameable, and the flock pure, he will either not venture to despise their authority, and to enter into the Church of God at all, as one smitten by his own conscience: or if he values nothing, and ventures to enter in, either he will be convicted immediately, as Uzza14 at the ark, when he touched it to support it; and as Achan,15 when he stole the accursed thing; and as Gehazi,16 when he coveted the money of Naaman, and so will be immediately punished: or else he will be admonished by the pastor, and drawn to repentance. For when he looks round the whole Church one by one, and can spy no blemish, neither in the bishop nor in the people who are under his care, he will be put to confusion, and pricked at the heart, and in a peaceable manner will go his way with shame and many tears, and the flock will remain pure. He will apply himself to God with tears, and will repent of his sins, and have hope. Nay, the whole flock, at the sight of his tears, will be instructed, because a sinner avoids destruction by repentance.

9 1 Sam. 15.

10 1 Sam. 2.

11 Matt. 18:6, 7.

12 1 Kings 12.

13 Num. 16.

14 2 Sam. 6.

15 Josh. 7.

16 2 Kings 5.

Roberts, A., Donaldson, J., & Coxe, A. C. (Eds.). (1886). Constitutions of the Holy Apostles. In J. Donaldson (Trans.), Fathers of the Third and Fourth Centuries: Lactantius, Venantius, Asterius, Victorinus, Dionysius, Apostolic Teaching and Constitutions, Homily, and Liturgies (Vol. 7, p. 399). Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company.

John Chrysostom

On the Priesthood, VI.1

But our condition hereafter how shall we endure, when we are compelled to give our account for each of those who have been entrusted to us? For our penalty is not limited to shame, but everlasting chastisement awaits us as well. As for the passage, “Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit to them, for they watch in behalf of your souls as they that shall give account;”1 though I have mentioned it once already, yet I will break silence about it now, for the fear of its warning is continually agitating my soul. For if for him who causes one only, and that the least, to stumble, it is profitable that “a great millstone should be hanged about his neck, and that he should be sunk in the depth of the sea;”2 and if they who wound the consciences of the brethren, sin against Christ Himself,3 what then will they one day suffer, what kind of penalty will they pay, who destroy not one only, or two, or three, but so many multitudes? For it is not possible for inexperience to be urged as an excuse, nor to take refuge in ignorance, nor for the plea of necessity or force to be put forward. Yea, if it were possible, one of those under their charge could more easily make use of this refuge for his own sins than bishops in the case of the sins of others. Dost thou ask why? Because he who has been appointed to rectify the ignorance of others, and to warn them beforehand of the conflict with the devil which is coming upon them, will not be able to put forward ignorance as his excuse, or to say, “I have never heard the trumpet sound, I did not foresee the conflict.” For he is set for that very purpose, says Ezekiel, that he may sound the trumpet for others, and warn them of the dangers at hand. And therefore his chastisement is inevitable, though he that perishes happen to be but one. “For if when the sword comes, the watchman does not sound the trumpet to the people, nor give them a sign, and the sword come and take any man away, he indeed is taken away on account of his iniquity, but his blood will I require at the watchman’s hands.”1

1 Heb. 13:17.

2 Matt. 18:6.

3 1 Cor. 8:12.

1 Ezek. 33:6.

John Chrysostom. (1889). Treatise concerning the Christian Priesthood. In P. Schaff (Ed.), W. R. W. Stephens (Trans.), Saint Chrysostom: On the Priesthood, Ascetic Treatises, Select Homilies and Letters, Homilies on the Statues (Vol. 9, pp. 74–75). New York: Christian Literature Company.

An Exhortation to Theodore after His Fall, Letter I

For the reason why the devil plunges us into thoughts of despair is that he may cut off the hope which is towards God, the safe anchor, the foundation of our life, the guide of the way which leads to heaven, the salvation of perishing souls. “For by hope” it is said, “we are saved.”2 For this assuredly it is which, like some strong cord suspended from the heavens, supports our souls, gradually drawing towards that world on high those who cling firmly to it, and lifting them above the tempest of the evils of this life. If any one then becomes enervated, and lets go this sacred anchor, straightway he falls down, and is suffocated, having entered into the abyss of wickedness. And the Evil One knowing this, when he perceives that we are ourselves oppressed by the consciousness of evil deeds, steps in himself and lays upon us the additional burden, heavier than lead, of anxiety arising from despair; and if we accept it, it follows of necessity that we are forthwith dragged down by the weight, and having been parted from that cord, descend into the depth of misery where thou thyself art now, having forsaken the commandments of the meek and lowly Master and executing all the injunctions of the cruel tyrant, and implacable enemy of our salvation; having broken in pieces the easy yoke, and cast away the light burden, and having put on the iron collar instead of these things, yea, having hung the ponderous millstone3 from thy neck. Where then canst thou find a footing henceforth when thou art submerging thy unhappy soul, imposing on thyself this necessity of continually sinking downwards? Now the woman who had found the one coin called her neighbors to share her joy; saying, “Rejoice with me;” but I shall now invoke all friends, both mine and thine, for the contrary purpose, saying not “Rejoice with me” but “Mourn with me,” and take up the same strain of mourning, and utter the same cry of distress with me. For the worst possible loss has befallen me, not that some given number of talents of gold, or some large quantity of precious stones have dropped out of my hand, but that he who was more precious than all these things, who was sailing over this same sea, this great and broad sea with me, has, I know not how, slipped overboard, and fallen into the very pit of destruction.

2 Rom. 8:24.

3 μν́λος ὀνικός, lit. the mill-stone turned by an ass, as being heavier than the common hand-mill. So in Matt. 18:6.

John Chrysostom. (1889). An Exhortation to Theodore after His Fall. In P. Schaff (Ed.), W. R. W. Stephens (Trans.), Saint Chrysostom: On the Priesthood, Ascetic Treatises, Select Homilies and Letters, Homilies on the Statues (Vol. 9, p. 92). New York: Christian Literature Company.

Homily LVII on Matthew

“For know,” saith He, “that not only, if ye yourselves become like this, shall ye receive a great reward; but also if for my sake ye honor others who are such, even for your honor to them do I appoint unto you a kingdom as your recompence.” Or rather, He sets down what is far greater, saying, “he receiveth me.” So exceedingly dear to me is all that is lowly and artless.” For by “a little child,” here, He means the men that are thus simple and lowly, and abject and contemptible in the judgment of the common sort.

4. After this, to obtain yet more acceptance for His saying, He establishes it not by the honor only, but also by the punishment, going on to say, “And whoso shall offend one of these little ones, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.”6

“For as they,” saith He, “who honor these for my sake, have heaven, or rather an honor greater than the very kingdom; even so they likewise who dishonor them (for this is to offend them), shall suffer the extremity of punishment. And marvel thou not at His calling the affront “an offense;”7 for many feeble-minded persons have suffered no ordinary offense from being treated with slight and insult. To heighten therefore and aggravate the blame, He states the mischief arising therefrom.

6 Matt. 18:6. [R. V., “but whoso shall cause one of these little ones which believe in me to stumble, it is profitable for him that a great millstone (Greek, a millstone turned by an ass) should be hanged about his neck, and that he should be sunk in the depth of the sea.” The Greek text of Chrysostom agrees very closely with the received, but omits “which believe in me.”—R.]

7 [σκάνδαλον, “stumbling block.”]

John Chrysostom. (1888). Homilies of St. John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople on the Gospel according to St. Matthew. In P. Schaff (Ed.), G. Prevost & M. B. Riddle (Trans.), Saint Chrysostom: Homilies on the Gospel of Saint Matthew (Vol. 10, p. 360). New York: Christian Literature Company.

Homily I on the Epistle of St. Paul to Titus

Because he had called him his son, he adds, “from God the Father,” to elevate his mind by showing whose son he was, and by not only naming the common faith, but by adding “our Father,” he implies that he has this honor equally with himself. moral. Observe also how he offers the same prayers for the Teacher, as for the disciples and the multitude. For indeed he needs such prayers as much, or rather more than they, by how much he has greater enmities to encounter, and is more exposed to the necessity of offending God. For the higher is the dignity, the greater are the dangers of the priestly office. For one good act in his episcopal office is sufficient to raise him to heaven and one error to sink him to hell itself. For, to pass over all other cases of daily occurrence, if he happens, either from friendship or any other cause, to have advanced an unworthy person to a Bishopric, and have committed to him the rule of a great city, see to how great a flame he renders himself obnoxious. For not only will he have to account for the souls that are lost, for they are lost through the man’s irreligion, but for all that is done amiss by the other. For he that is irreligious in a private station will be much more so when he is raised to power. It is much indeed, if a pious man continue such after his elevation to rule. For he is then more strongly assailed by vainglory, and the love of wealth, and self-will, when office gives him the power; and by offenses, insults, and reproaches, and numberless other evils. If therefore any one be irreligious, he will become more so when raised to office; and he who appoints such a ruler will be answerable for all the offenses committed by him, and for the whole people. But if it is said of him who gives offense to one soul, “It were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea” (Matt. 18:6); what will he have to suffer who offends so many souls, whole cities and populations, and multitudes of families,1 men, women, children, citizens, and husbandmen, the inhabitants of the city itself, and of all places subject to it? To say thrice as much more is to say nothing, so severe is the vengeance and the punishment to which he will be obnoxious. So that a Bishop especially needs the grace and peace of God. For if without these he governs the people, all is ruined and lost, for want of those helms. And though he be skilled in the art of steering, he will sink the vessel and those that sail in it, if he has not these helms, “the grace and peace of God.”

1 So Sav. mar. Edd. “souls.”

John Chrysostom. (1889). Homilies of St. John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople, on the Epistle of St. Paul the Apostle to Titus. In P. Schaff (Ed.), J. Tweed & P. Schaff (Trans.), Saint Chrysostom: Homilies on Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Thessalonians, Timothy, Titus, and Philemon (Vol. 13, p. 522). New York: Christian Literature Company.

Athanasius the Great

Defense against the Arians, I.II.21

Now if the author of it wrote with an ambition of exhibiting his power of language, such a practice surely is more suitable for other subjects: in ecclesiastical matters, it is not a display of eloquence that is needed, but the observance of Apostolic Canons, and an earnest care not to offend one of the little ones of the Church. For it were better for a man, according to the word of the Church, that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the sea, than that he should offend even one of the little ones3. But if such a letter was written, because certain persons have been aggrieved on account of their meanness of spirit towards one another (for I will not impute it to all); it were better not to entertain any such feeling of offence at all, at least not to let the sun go down upon their vexation; and certainly not to give it room to exhibit itself in writing.

3 Matt. 18:6.

Athanasius of Alexandria. (1892). Defence against the Arians. In P. Schaff & H. Wace (Eds.), M. Atkinson & A. T. Robertson (Trans.), St. Athanasius: Select Works and Letters (Vol. 4, p. 111). New York: Christian Literature Company.

History of the Councils

Now here I marvel first, and think that I shall carry every sensible man whatever with me, that, whereas a General Council had been fixed, and all were looking forward to it, it was all of a sudden divided into two, so that one part met here, and the other there. However, this was surely the doing of Providence, in order in the respective Councils to exhibit the faith without guile or corruption of the one party, and to expose the dishonesty and duplicity of the other. Next, this too was on the mind of myself and my true brethren here, and made us anxious, the impropriety of this great gathering which we saw in progress; for what pressed so much, that the whole world was to be put in confusion, and those who at the time bore the profession of clergy, should run about far and near, seeking how best to learn to believe in our Lord Jesus Christ? Certainly if they were believers already, they would not have been seeking, as though they were not. And to the catechumens, this was no small scandal; but to the heathen, it was something more than common, and even furnished broad merriment6, that Christians, as if waking out of sleep at this time of day, should be enquiring how they were to believe concerning Christ; while their professed clergy, though claiming deference from their flocks, as teachers, were unbelievers on their own shewing, in that they were seeking what they had not. And the party of Ursacius, who were at the bottom of all this, did not understand what wrath they were storing up (Rom. 2:5) against themselves, as our Lord says by His saints, ‘Woe unto them, through whom My Name is blasphemed among the Gentiles’ (Is. 52:5; Rom. 2:24); and by His own mouth in the Gospels (Matt. 18:6), ‘Whoso shall offend one of these little ones, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea, than,’ as Luke adds, ‘that he should offend one of these little ones’ (Luke 17:2).

6 Cf. Ammianus, Hist. xxi. 16. Eusebius, Vit. Const. ii. 61.

Athanasius of Alexandria. (1892). Councils of Ariminum and Seleucia. In P. Schaff & H. Wace (Eds.), J. H. Newman & A. T. Robertson (Trans.), St. Athanasius: Select Works and Letters (Vol. 4, pp. 451–452). New York: Christian Literature Company.

Letter to Dracontius

I am at a loss how to write. Am I to blame you for your refusal? or for having regard to the trials, and hiding for fear of the Jews1? In any case, however it may be, what you have done is worthy of blame, beloved Dracontius. For it was not fitting that after receiving the grace you should hide, nor that, being a wise man, you should furnish others with a pretext for flight. For many are offended when they hear it; not merely that you have done this, but that you have done it having regard to the times and to the afflictions which are weighing upon the Church. And I fear lest, in flying for your own sake, you prove to be in peril in the sight of the Lord on account of others. For if ‘he that offendeth one of the little ones, should rather choose that a mill stone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depths of the sea2,’ what can be in store for you, if you prove an offence to so many? For the surprising unanimity about your election in the district3 of Alexandria will of necessity be broken up by your retirement: and the episcopate of the district will be grasped at by many,—and many unfit persons, as you are well aware. And many heathen who were promising to become Christians upon your election will remain heathen, if your piety sets at nought the grace given you.

1 Cf. Joh. 3:2; 19:38.

2 Matt. 18:6.

3 Hermupolis Parva was in the nome, or department, of Alexandria (anciently called the nome of Hermupolis in the Delta), and lay on a canal 44 miles east of the Capital; it is identified with Damanhur. Agathammon, a Meletian bishop of this ‘district,’ is mentioned in the list, Apol. Ar. 71, where the district of ‘Sais’ seems to include a much wider area than the ancient Saite nome (Maspero. Hist. Anc. 4, p. 24).

Athanasius of Alexandria. (1892). Personal Letters. In P. Schaff & H. Wace (Eds.), A. T. Robertson (Trans.), St. Athanasius: Select Works and Letters (Vol. 4, pp. 557–558). New York: Christian Literature Company.


Treatise Against Jovinianus, I.24

He boasts that David bought his wife for two hundred foreskins. But he should remember that David had numerous other wives, and afterwards received Michal, Saul’s daughter, whom her father had delivered to another, and when he was old got heat from the embrace of the Shunammite maiden. And I do not say this because I am bold enough to disparage holy men, but because it is one thing to live under the law, another to live under the Gospel. David slew Uriah the Hittite and committed adultery with Bathsheba. And because he was a man of blood—the reference is not, as some think, to his wars, but to the9 murder—he was not permitted to build a temple of the Lord. But as for us,10 if we cause one of the least to stumble, and if we say to a brother11 Raca, or12 use our eyes improperly, it were good that a millstone were hanged about our neck, we shall be in danger of Gehenna, and a mere glance will be reckoned to us for adultery.

9 See, however, 1 Chron. 22:8.

10 S. Matt. 18:6.

11 S. Matt. 5:22.

12 S. Matt. 5:27.

Jerome. (1893). Against Jovinianus. In P. Schaff & H. Wace (Eds.), W. H. Fremantle, G. Lewis, & W. G. Martley (Trans.), St. Jerome: Letters and Select Works (Vol. 6, pp. 363–364). New York: Christian Literature Company.

Basil the Great

Letter XLVI

It were better for him that a mill-stone had been hanged about his neck, and that he had been cast into the sea, than that he should have offended the virgin of the Lord.17 What slave ever reached such a pitch of mad audacity as to fling himself upon his master’s bed? What robber ever attained such a height of folly as to lay hands upon the very offerings of God, not dead vessels, but bodies living and enshrining a soul made after the image of God?1

17 cf. Luke 17:2.

1 St. Basil has no idea of the image and likeness of God being a bodily likeness, as in the lines of Xenophanes.

Basil of Caesarea. (1895). Letters. In P. Schaff & H. Wace (Eds.), B. Jackson (Trans.), St. Basil: Letters and Select Works (Vol. 8, pp. 150–151). New York: Christian Literature Company.

Gregory the Theologian

Oration II.2

For I cannot endure that any of those who watch with interest the success, or the contrary, of my efforts, should be put to confusion on my account, since it has pleased God that our affairs should be of some consequence to Christians, so I will by my defence relieve, if there be any such, those who have already suffered; for it is well, as far as possible, and as reason allows, to shrink from causing, through our sin or suspicion, any offence or stumbling-block to the community: inasmuch as we know how inevitably even those who offend one of the little ones4 will incur the severest punishment at the hands of Him who cannot lie.

4 S. Matt. 18:6.

Gregory Nazianzen. (1894). Select Orations of Saint Gregory Nazianzen. In P. Schaff & H. Wace (Eds.), C. G. Browne & J. E. Swallow (Trans.), S. Cyril of Jerusalem, S. Gregory Nazianzen (Vol. 7, p. 205). New York: Christian Literature Company.

Leo the Great


Such a one, therefore, has now shown himself amongst us, Eutyches, for many years a presbyter and archimandrite8, pretending to hold the same belief as ours, and to have the right Faith in him: indeed he resists the blasphemy of Nestorius, and feigns a controversy with him, but the exposition of the Faith composed by the 318 holy fathers, and the letter that Cyril of holy memory wrote to Nestorius, and one by the same author on the same subject to the Easterns, these writings, to which all have given their assent, he has tried to upset, and revive the old evil dogmas of the blasphemous Valentinus and Apollinaris. He has not feared the warning of the True King: “Whoso shall cause one of the least of these little ones to stumble, it was better that a millstone should be hanged about his neck, and that he should be sunk in the depth of the sea1.” But casting away all shame, and shaking off the cloak which covered his error2, he openly in our holy synod persisted in saying that our Lord Jesus Christ ought not to be understood by us as having two natures after His incarnation in one substance and in one person: nor yet that the Lord’s flesh was of the same substance with us, as if assumed from us and united to God the Word hypostatically: but he said that the Virgin who bare him was indeed of the same substance with us according to the flesh, but the Lord Himself did not assume from her flesh of the same substance with us: but the Lord’s body was not a man’s body, although that which issued from the Virgin was a human body. resisting all the expositions of the holy Fathers.

8 Viz., head of a monastery (Gk. μάνδρα) or abbot.

1 S. Matt. 18:6, but it will be noticed that the quotation is confused with 25:40, minimis being substituted for qui in me credunt.

2 Pudorem (instead of the impudenter of the MSS.) omnem abiciens et pellem quæ eum circumdabat excutiens, the Gk. version of this somewhat obscure passage running αίδῶ πᾶσαν άποβαλὼν καὶ ἣν περιέκειτο τῆς πλάνς δορὰν ἀποτιναξάμενος.

Leo the Great. (1895). Letters. In P. Schaff & H. Wace (Eds.), C. L. Feltoe (Trans.), Leo the Great, Gregory the Great (Vol. 12a, pp. 34–35). New York: Christian Literature Company.

Gregory the Great

Book of Pastoral Rule, I.II

There are some also who investigate spiritual precepts with cunning care, but what they penetrate with their understanding they trample on in their lives: all at once they teach the things which not by practice but by study they have learnt; and what in words they preach by their manners they impugn. Whence it comes to pass that when the shepherd walks through steep places, the flock follows to the precipice. Hence it is that the Lord through the prophet complains of the contemptible knowledge of shepherds, saying, When ye yourselves had drunk most pure water, ye fouled the residue with your feet; and My sheep fed on that which had been trodden by your feet, and drank that which your feet had fouled (Ezek. 34:18, 19). For indeed the shepherds drink most pure water, when with a right understanding they imbibe the streams of truth. But to foul the same water with their feet is to corrupt the studies of holy meditation by evil living. And verily the sheep drink the water fouled by their feet, when any of those subject to them follow not the words which they hear, but only imitate the bad examples which they see. Thirsting for the things said, but perverted by the works observed, they take in mud with their draughts, as from polluted fountains. Hence also it is written through the prophet, A snare for the downfall of my people are evil priests (Hos. 5:1; 9:8). Hence again the Lord through the prophet says of the priests, They are made to be for a stumbling-block of iniquity to the house of Israel. For certainly no one does more harm in the Church than one who has the name and rank of sanctity, while he acts perversely. For him, when he transgresses, no one presumes to take to task; and the offence spreads forcibly for example, when out of reverence to his rank the sinner is honoured. But all who are unworthy would fly from the burden of so great guilt, if with the attentive ear of the heart they weighed the sentence of the Truth, Whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he were drowned in the depth of the sea (Matth. 18:6). By the millstone is expressed the round and labour of worldly life, and by the depth of the sea is denoted final damnation. Whosoever, then, having come to bear the outward show of sanctity, either by word or example destroys others, it had indeed been better for him that earthly deeds in open guise should press him down to death than that sacred offices should point him out to others as imitable in his wrong-doing; because, surely, if he fell alone, the pains of hell would torment him in more tolerable degree.

Gregory the Great. (1895). The Book of Pastoral Rule of Saint Gregory the Great, Roman Pontiff, to John, Bishop of the City of Ravenna. In P. Schaff & H. Wace (Eds.), J. Barmby (Trans.), Leo the Great, Gregory the Great (Vol. 12b, pp. 2–3). New York: Christian Literature Company.


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